Misinformation, Conspiracies and Trust

Version 0.1

25/10/21

So I thought I would share some of my thoughts concerning conspiracy theories or more specifically my own thoughts concerning the campaign to discredit conspiracy theorists and some of my thoughts on the battle for misinformation and the issue of trust. Conspiracy theories if you don’t know are an explanation for an event or situation that invokes a conspiracy or sinister and powerful group according to Wikipedia [1]. The most popular conspiracies are things like 9/11, bigfoot, aliens, ufos, area 51 etc. Misinformation is any information that isn’t factual, a basic example of misinformation is the idea that the world is flat, the world is in fact is a sphere and anyone that says its flat is wrong (sorry flat earthers). There has been a recent push by tech companies and politicians to fight misinformation online and the issue has become heavily politicized in recent years.

Conspiracy theories I find have become really taboo nowadays and have gotten a lot of discredit in the mainstream media and anyone labeled as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ is instantly discredited. I find this to be dangerous because being able to discredit someone’s ideas by simply labeling the person as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ is quite concerning. Its dangerous because it instantly brings into question that person’s credibility and generally people are a lot more cautious and distrustful over what this person says because of being labeled a conspiracy theorist.

I find that the term conspiracy has become so generalized and the term has become tarnished by the likes of Q anon and theories that covid doesn’t exist or that covid is caused by 5g and that being labeled a conspiracy theorist even if you give reasonable rational for your ideas and opinions places you in a really bad light and discredits what you are saying because you are associated with the likes of Q anon and the people promoting the idea that covid is a hoax. Its also very easy to label someone a conspiracy theorist for having certain ideas and beliefs. Hell I’m almost sure that there is someone that will argue that I am a conspiracy theorist for writing this very article!

Heavily related to this issue of so called conspiracy theories is the issue of misinformation which the mainstream media and politicians are jumping on arguing that more needs to be done to prevent misinformation online which I find to be quite dangerous because this comes with a number of issues; firstly – who has the authority/right to label certain information as false? I believe that the battle of misinformation ultimately leads to something like what the book 1984 had with a department called the ministry of truth which in the book had the power to declare which information was truth and which information was false. I think we are currently witnessing something like that occurring where mainstream social media companies I.e Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are censoring certain information from their platforms, an example of this is a blog post by YouTube they made recently supporting the 2020 US election where they said that their main goal is to connect people with ‘authoritative’ information [2] and more recently YouTube have said that they are going to start demonitising people that deny climate change [3] Which I believe to be a complete attack on freedom of speech and also raises the question of how far do they go with this censorship? By taking away ad revenue of people that deny climate change it forces YouTube’s content creators to censor themselves if they believe that climate change isn’t real and the fact that YouTube and all the other tech companies can at any moment create a new policy that stops people from sharing their views about a certain topic really is a threat to our democracy and free world we live in.

Related to this is sometimes YouTube will have a section under the video that gives a link to what YouTube considers an authoritative source of information, I.e a link to the latest information from WHO regarding covid. YouTube will also sometimes have a Wikipedia article relating to the topic of the video under the video which YouTube somehow considers to be an authoritative source of information. I may perhaps will make a more in-depth article about Wikipedia and the issues with trusting it, but for now I will keep it relevant to the topic. Essentially what this does is it pushes the users of YouTube to visit what YouTube considers ‘authoritative’ sources of information and promotes the information in those sources.

This next part of this article is about information, trust and the reliability of information but related to this discussion of conspiracy theories is trust because who is a reliable source of information? Are news outlets a reliable source of information? Are blog posts a reliable source of information? Is Wikipedia a reliable source of information? Is a post on a forum a reliable source of information? How do we determine if a source is reliable/credible? Well one thing I generally do is to look at the source’s past information and check to see there are any red flags I.e a blog post which has articles on 5g causing covid and if the information it has given in the past is reliable at all. Another key thing I think when assessing the reliability of a source is having good evidence with their claims.

Ultimately I feel that the issue of conspiracy theories and misinformation is really an issue on trust in our society. Who do we trust for our information? Most people generally trust news sources for reliable information and so called experts which the news often have. But the issue is further exaggerated when there is so much information our there and for every article you find supporting one claim there are likely other articles which support a different claim. Then it ultimately comes down to who do you trust for information? How much can we really trust out politicians who almost certainly have hidden agendas which they are following? How much can we trust our news outlets to give us unbiased information?

Personally I think that pushing the people to go to ‘authoritative’ sources of information like what YouTube is currently doing is a threat to our democracy because it is forcing people to trust information from what YouTube considers ‘authoritative’ sources who may or may not have their own political objectives and agendas. I also feel that this issue of ‘misinformation’ is being heavily exaggerated to push a certain agenda because why wasn’t it an issue before? What has changed that has suddenly made this issue of so called misinformation so significant? Is the whole thing just ‘theater’ – as in the issue isn’t actually significant but is being portrayed as such in media outlets to push a certain agenda? I believe that the issue of misinformation is really an attack on our freedom of speech as social media companies are now censoring information which they consider to be false. Also what I find quite interesting is the fact that things like flat earthers are not being censored and yet things like climate change denial is being censored by YouTube because they are taking away content creaters ad revenue if they push climate change denial. You have to ask why that is?

But then where does this censorship end? How far are they willing to take this? Does it stop with so called anti-vax information? Does it stop when the tech giants start censoring people that speak out against the Government’s decisions? I believe that forcing people to believe the information from ‘trusted’ organizations or ‘authoritative’ sources by pushing them to that information is preventing the people from getting their information from other sources which is a direct threat to our democracy because it essentially creates a ministry of truth where any information not in line with ‘authoritative’ sources are censored and branded as misinformation. Its my view that a person should have the power to believe whatever source of information they choose. If a person doesn’t want to believe what the Government says – then that should be their fundamental right to do so. It shouldn’t be for the Government or tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc to tell people what to trust and what not to trust because who are they to dictate what we should or shouldn’t believe? People should have a right to believe whatever information they choose to from any source.

I also want to say that misinformation is an issue, but I think that this is an issue stemming from not giving people adequate education to be able to discern reliable information from unreliable information. In my view the solution isn’t to censor misinformation or what tech companies consider ‘misinformation’, the solution is to educate people on reliable information and unreliable information because by doing this it doesn’t hinder free speech and doesn’t harm our democracy because you are giving power to the people by allowing them to be their own judge of reliable information and allowing them to trust what source of information they wish to. In censoring certain sources and types of information its creating a dystopia where people’s actual views on topics are being suppressed and creates this false sense of reality to people where the people are forced and pushed to believe information that the Government/tech companies want them to believe which is a threat to our modern day democracy and free world.

In conclusion, I believe that tech companies and Governments shouldn’t have the right to censor any information and instead the people should be educated on assessing what is reliable information and what isn’t reliable information because by handing power to tech companies and Governments to censor certain information it creates a precedent in our ‘free world’ where its normal for information on certain topics to be censored which as I said creates a false reality that pushes certain information and represses other information which in turn hinders people’s intellectual freedom and thereby hurts our democracy and free world we live in. It should also be a person’s God given right on what and who they believe and go to for information and shouldn’t be in the hands of people like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Governments etc in telling people what to believe and what not to believe because it creates a dystopia where we have a ministry of truth and information is censored, but the worst thing about censorship is that the majority of people don’t know there is censorship which creates a false reality of the situation to the people. Therefore, we should take whatever action we can to fight censorship in whichever way we can so that freedom may obtain and that truth prevails.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conspiracy_theory
[2] https://blog.youtube/news-and-events/supporting-the-2020-us-election/
[3] https://support.google.com/google-ads/answer/11221321

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